Quakers Shake Up Section One Hockey by Stunning Pelham

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The Quakers’ Reed Putnam reaches for the puck in Saturday’s Division 2 championship game.

Maybe it wasn’t quite on the same scale as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” at the Lake Placid Olympics, but the Horace Greeley Quakers sure shook up the status quo in Section One hockey on Friday night.

Freshman Dylan Mutkoski’s goal in the sixth round of an overtime shootout gave the Quakers an improbable victory over four-time defending champion Pelham in a Division 2 semifinal that probably could have used Al Michaels on hand to reprise his famous “do you believe in miracles?” call.

Unfortunately for the Quakers, though, they had to return to the ice just 14 hours later to face John Jay in the championship game at Brewster Ice Arena. The top-seeded Indians took advantage of a weary Greeley team that had just endured four seven-and-a-half minute overtime sessions and came away with a 5-3 victory.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” admitted Quakers head coach Dan Perito, looking back on 24 hours of postseason euphoria and disappointment for his third-seeded team. “It’s hard to put the whole season into a time capsule right now and look back on it. But give it some time and I think we can take a look back and realize we accomplished a lot.”

Facing top-seeded John Jay, the Quakers quickly descended from Cloud Nine and were forced to spend all of Saturday afternoon battling from behind. Just over a minute after the opening faceoff, Chase Goldman put the Indians on the scoreboard and they remained in front the rest of the way.

Jay’s Jack Browne scored the first of his two goals, on a wrist shot from the left that found the far side of the net, with just 53 seconds left in the period and Greeley found itself trailing 2-0 at the first intermission.

“I knew going in we were gonna be dragging a little, especially in the beginning,” said Perito, whose team was outshot 21-7 in the opening period. “I was hoping we could get a couple shifts for everyone, get our legs under us and kind of ease into it. Second shift, John Jay was able to get a goal. We still weren’t fully into it yet.”

The Quakers did manage to narrow their deficit to just 2-1 three minutes into the second period when Ryan Renzulli won a race for the puck behind the net and sent it in front where Jake Cronin deposited it past Indians goalie Taylor Isom. But just 10 seconds later, John Jay’s John McKeon one-timed a shot past Arye Wolberg to restore the Indians’ two-goal advantage.

“There was some life on the bench and it really gave us a shot in the arm,” said Perito about the goal from Cronin. “But then we gave it right back, which was tough. You know, that kind of takes the wind out of your sail.”

Even more wind came out of the Quakers’ sails early in the third period when an odd-man rush by John Jay led to a McKeon pass from the right wing to Brian Daley in front for another Indian goal that left the Quakers trailing 4-1 with 11:44 left in the game. But just a minute later, Greeley answered with an unassisted goal from Alex Milne. And with 9:21 to go, Liam Whitehouse scored to narrow the deficit to just one goal.

“I’ve never questioned the heart, the effort and the hustle of this team all year,” Perito said. “We’ve fallen behind numerous times and been behind late in games. We’ve tied the game twice in last minutes of a game and won in overtime before. So I knew that no one was gonna quit.”

But the Greeley comeback bid was thwarted as Browne, who had a hat trick in Jay’s semifinal win over Byram Hills, scored a spectacular goal with just 4:16 left on the clock, somehow maneuvering through a pair of Quakers and then poking the puck past Wolberg while falling face-first onto the ice. The goal by Browne all but sealed the outcome and soon the Indians were flinging their sticks, gloves and helmets all over the ice in celebration of their first title in five years.

“It’s just a tough play and that was really a back breaker, mentally,” said Perito of the dazzling goal by Browne that dashed the Quakers’ hopes. “But, again, we never quit. We almost got a fourth goal there at the end, just snuck by the post. We were fighting an uphill battle all day with the conditions coming back from last night 16 hours later. Obviously even one day’s rest would’ve been great. But out of our control. We don’t have a say in that, really. We played the hand we were dealt.”

For Perito and the Quakers, trying to beat both Pelham and John Jay on successive days proved to be just too big a hurdle. But they gained plenty of respect around the region, especially after battling the perennial powerhouse Pelicans to a 1-1 stalemate through 75 minutes of tense hockey at the Ice Hutch as Wolberg, just a freshman, made 45 saves.

“He was a wall in net for us,” said Perito. “I mean, he was unbelievable last night. He’s one of the reasons why we won that game.”

The Quakers wound up just one win shy of capturing their first sectional title and Perito, his first year at the helm now behind him, will have a lot to savor from a memorable season.

“I told ‘em before the third period and I just told ‘em again there, I could not be prouder of this group of players for everything they accomplished,” he said. “You know, we had never won a league title, we had never gotten to the championship before. They accomplished so much in one season. That’s something at the very least they can hang their hats on. Right now it’s not what they want to hear, it’s not the result they wanted. But when they take a minute and look back on it, they’ll be able to appreciate it.”

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